Photo: Annie Parisse
As The Amoralists' production of Ghosts in the Cottonwoods begins, we see Bean Scully sucking venom out of her son Pointer's leech bites. He is 18 years old and nude, and author-director Adam Rapp has served us vivid notice that this is no ordinary mother-son relationship. Bean's treatment of Pointer occupies an uncomfortable area somewhere between seduction and abuse, and she disparages any chance of romance or improving himself that Pointer may aspire to.
Living in the backwoods, the Scullys have no TV set and no phone, and they supply their own electricity thru a hand-cranked generator. Their one-room house is rickety and cobbled together. It contains a large noose to anchor the building to a tree stump during mud slides.
Tonight Bean and Pointer are waiting for Bean's older son Jeff to come home; Jeff has broken out of prison after six years. But before he arrives, the Scullys receive two unexpected visitors: a repo man with a bullet wound and a young woman with a suitcase. While Ghosts in the Cottonwoods has some funny moments, it is generally a story of loss, violence, grudges, and revenge. The characters cannot communicate, although they try everything from attempting to learn how to read to rapping to clicking to book-writing to literally eating their words. The three Scullys are deeply damaged, and they share a willingness to kill if they feel it is necessary.
Ghosts in the Cottonwoods is deeply disturbing. However, it is extremely well-written, -directed, and -acted; consistently interesting; and sometimes fascinating. The always-brilliant Sarah Lemp shines as Bean, and the other actors (Nick Lawson, William Apps, Mandy Nicole Moore, James Kautz, and Matthew Pilieci) are also excellent. (Lawson, however, is frequently difficult to understand.)